The Eight Best Frozen Treats in Pittsburgh
Our dining critic picks his favorite ice cream, ice pop, frozen custard, vegan delight and more.
photo by adam milliron
Ice Cream: Millie’s Homemade Ice Cream
There’s a running joke at the Pittsburgh Magazine office: Somebody mentions ice cream or dessert. People look at me. I say, “Go to Millie’s.” Everyone else says, “What a surprise you said that, Hal.” I’m smitten with the creamery’s signature flavors such as Chad’s vanilla and Vietnamese coffee and look forward to its seasonal offerings such as rhubarb sorbet and black-walnut molasses. The company also is changing the region’s food system by creating an ever-increasing demand for sustainable dairy products and a steady supply chain for local farmers, and we like that a lot, too.
Shadyside and Downtown; millieshomemade.com
photo by erin kelly
Vegan Frozen Delight: Greekfreez
Nearly a decade ago, Mike Smalis left the financial industry to take over The Greek Gourmet Marketplace, founded by his late mother, Despina, in Squirrel Hill. Last year, he learned that the cans of chickpeas he uses for his signature product, Peppi’s Greek Gourmet hummus, contain an unusual, but usable byproduct — viscous water, which Smalis now whips it into a meringue-like substance called aquafaba. It’s become the base for his habit-forming frozen dessert, Greekfreez. The airy, creamy and 100-percent vegan treat will have everyone, dairy-avoidant and otherwise, buzzing with delight.
Squirrel Hill, 2130 Murray Ave; 412/422-2998, facebook.com/the-greek-gourmet-marketplace
photo by hal b. klein
Ice Pop: Alquisiras Paleteria
Pittsburgh’s community of immigrants from Mexico is small — but the Escobar family, who moved to Pittsburgh from Delaware earlier this year, are set to change the city’s ice-pop game with Alquisiras Paleteria. Paletas come in two categories: paletas de aguas are water- or fruit-juice based, and paletas de crema are milk or nut-milk based. The small restaurant’s owners prepare a rainbow of both — there currently are 20 flavors, and they’re planning on scaling up to 50 over the next year. My favorites thus far are spicy-sweet mango con chile, comforting rice milk with cinnamon and peppy lime.
Beechview: 2056 Broadway Ave.; 412/343-0752, facebook.com/alquisiraspaleteriapittsburgh
photo by laura petrilla
Ice Cream Sandwich: Leona’s Ice Cream Sandwiches
Katie Heldstab and Christa Puskarich started selling their handcrafted ice cream sandwiches in 2013, first in a coffee shop, then in a bike-powered cart and now in more than 50 locations throughout the region. The duo handcrafts both the ice cream — pre-treating it with an enzyme to render it lactose-free — and the tasty cookies that form the sandwich. They use a good number of Pittsburgh-area growers including Paul Family Farms, Triple B Farms and Wigle Whiskey to add flavor to their confections. Combinations such as raspberry snickerdoodle, rhubarb with brown-sugar shortbread and blueberry with oatmeal lace cookies are enticing options.
Various locations; leonaspgh.com
photos by hal b. klein
Nostalgia: Page Dairy Mart
Generations of Pittsburghers have their favorite order at the South Side frozen treat stand, which the Page family opened in 1951 on land they’ve owned since the 1800s. When I posted an Instagram story highlighting a recent visit there, the DMs flooded in with people expressing their favorites. “Peanut Crunch is life,” one friend said. “It’s all about a simple chocolate/vanilla twist,” said another (I agree). “Get a dip,” a third suggested. It’s restorative in a fast-moving, frenzied world to pause for a timeless experience, and a trip to Page Dairy Mart provides just the right relief.
South Side: 4600 E. Carson St.; 412/431-0600, pagedairymart.net
Frozen Custard: Hank’s Frozen Custard & Mexican Food
Frozen custard is as pliant as soft-serve but provides a significantly denser and creamier mouthfeel because of the added egg yolks. Hank Grosshans opened his Beaver County frozen custard stand in 1948, and, about a decade later, added a small Mexican food menu (I did the cafeteria-style hard-shell tacos). The Grosshans family no longer owns the New Brighton shop (relatives run a separate business with the same name in Conneaut Lake), but the roadside stand, rebuilt in 2001, still is a draw for its delicious frozen custards. Classic vanilla is my choice here.
New Brighton: 2210 3rd Ave.; 724/847-4265, go2hanks.com
photo courtesy hidden harbor
Frozen Cocktail: Josie’s Faraway Vacation at Hidden Harbor
Among the drinks listed on the establishments top-flight tiki menu at Hidden Harbor in Squirrel Hill is the most transportive frozen cocktail in Pittsburgh. Josie’s Faraway Vacation is a smooth blend of arrack (a distilled spirit similar to rum), Jamaican rum, curacao, lime, basil, chili, mint, ginger and coconut, plus a measured portion of water to ensure proper texture and dilution. It’s a refreshing blend of sweet, smooth, spicy and citrus that makes for a chill thrill of a treat. (It’s also potent, so be sure to pace yourself.)
Squirrel Hill: 1708 Shady Ave.; 412/422-5040, hiddenharborpgh.com
photo by david kelly
Ice Ball: Gus and Yia Yia's Ice Ball Cart
North Side residents first enjoyed flavored ice balls in 1934, when George Kalaris started shaving blocks of ice and his son, Gus, worked with him, taking over the stand when his father passed away in 1951. The secret to the refreshing frozen treat is the irregular shards produced by rapidly hand-shaving crystal clean ice blocks; some of the chips melt quickly, helping the custom syrups infuse into the ice ball, while larger chunks of ice retain their solid state to provide a refreshing crunch.
North Side: 638 W. Ohio St.